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IBHE Approves Bachelor's Degree in Religious Studies at WIU

February 5, 2008

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MACOMB, IL -- The Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE) today (Feb. 5) approved a Western Illinois University request to offer a Bachelor of Arts in Religious Studies degree, beginning Fall 2008.

The religious studies degree, which was approved by Western's Board of Trustees in June 2007, was created to provide graduates of the program with a solid foundation for understanding human cultural experiences and to further enhance Western's commitment to a liberal arts education. The proposed program will build upon the University's minor in religious studies, which has been offered since 1978. The new WIU degree program is only the second religious studies program offered at an Illinois public university.

According to John Simmons, chair of the philosophy and religious studies department, the 120-semester-hour interdisciplinary program will encompass a number of religious traditions -- including Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and Judaism -- and will examine the interplay between religion and culture from a variety of perspectives such as gender, race and the relationship between religion and violence, religion and science and religion and spirituality. Historical and cultural dynamics that generate new religious movements or reforms will also be key to the program.

"Providing pioneering educational and research opportunities is a key mission for the College of Arts and Sciences. The degree in religious studies is yet another way for us to provide those new opportunities for our students," said College of Arts and Sciences Dean Inessa Levi.

Simmons added that the new degree program also fits with Western's mission of an affordable education.

"The majority of religious studies programs in Illinois are offered at private colleges and universities with significantly higher tuition. Students in the WIU degree program will benefit from University's innovative GradTrac and Cost Guarantee programs, which allow students to complete their baccalaureate degrees in four years while paying the same tuition, fees, room and board," he said. " I'd like to thank Dr. Levi for her vision and support in making this unique educational opportunity a reality for Western undergraduates."

Simmons explained that undergraduate research linked to regional concerns will be an important part of the new degree program. For instance, select students will have the opportunity to work with the Illinois Institute of Rural Affairs (IIRA) at Western to study the role of churches as a sustaining economic force in rural communities, where the church is a center of economic activities.

"We are pleased to offer a new academic program that will provide a unique learning experience for our students," said WIU President Al Goldfarb. "The degree program enhances our University's commitment to a liberal arts education and further supports the University's core values of academic excellence and educational opportunity."

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